Their roots run deep in the Tri-State area, and when given a chance to return home, both Willie Colon and Antonio Garay jumped at the chance.
“It’s awesome. It really is,” said Colon, a Bronx native and Hofstra graduate, who has played both guard and tackle. “I’m really humbled that they were able to bring me in and everything worked out well. I love the city of Pittsburgh and everything that I did here.
“…But it’s really a new beginning for me. I’m excited for it, to play amongst a great coach like Rex Ryan and be a part of a winning tradition, so to speak. I’m just ready to go to work. I know that we have talent and we’re going to have new talent and it’s going to be a good time.”
Garay said about “70-plus” family members live in his hometown of Rahway, N.J., adding: “Everyone’s happy, everyone’s excited. I couldn’t wait to jump at the opportunity to play for the Jets. I’m just ecstatic.”
Both players said they’ve already turned the page on their past – for Colon, that means seven seasons with the Steelers; for Garay, four years in San Diego -- and the injuries that have hobbled them in recent years.
Colon, 30, has had each other the past three seasons curtailed by knee injuries and most recently was placed on injured reserve last season after undergoing knee surgery. Garay, 33, has suffered five season-ending injuries since he was drafted by the Browns in 2003 – the worst being a broken leg and ankle on an illegal chop block by Redskins lineman Chris Samuels.
“My career definitely has not been easy,” said the nose tackle, who had a brief stint on the Jets practice squad in 2009. “I take on all the challenges. I’ve never hit the eight ball, I’ve just always been directly behind it. I welcome all competition and I expect to be in the mix of things. I think it’s just great. I’m excited.”
With cap space being an issue for the Jets, general manager John Idzik sought out free agents on a bargain this offseason. Colon signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal, while Garay’s base salary, according to NFLPA records, is $840,000.
But even though the team is in a rebuilding mode, both players are optimistic about what lies ahead. And they’re eager to show they’ve still got a lot left in the tank.
“Listen, I’m going to ride it til the wheels fall off, honestly,” Colon said. “I’ve got a lot of fight in me. ...I just want to be the best at whatever position I’m at and I just want to be a leader.”
Said Garay: “I’m like a young bull getting ready to go back in the ring.”
Here are other tidbits from Tuesday’s conference call:
(on the transition from right tackle to guard and if he feels better-suited to play guard)
“I don’t put myself in a box, I consider myself a football player. Anywhere you need me, I’m going to get it done. That was my attitude going from right tackle to left guard. When you’ve had the injuries that I’ve deal with you can’t be picky, you’ve just got to go to work."
(was the release from Pittsburgh surprising?)
“No I knew it was going to be an option. The Steelers are very black and white, they tell it like it is. I knew at the end of the year when we had our exit meetings that was an option: A) I could get released, B) I could get pay cut or C) I could remain on the team. …They wanted to go younger, they wanted to do what they needed to do best for their organization and I have no regrets, I have no ill feelings. I do have a big-ass chip on my shoulder.”
(expected role on defense)
“My role is to go out there and compete. ...I know I’m going to push myself to the limit and I plan on pushing everyone in that’s in D-line room. The best guy will start.”
(any preference between 4-3 or 3-4 fronts)
“Without question I can fit in all the fronts."
(on coming back to the Jets after being on the practice squad in 2009)
“When I came here, I was in my own backyard. ...I thought I was going to have an opportunity to eventually play and be a Jet for a long time, but it didn’t work out that way. I had four great years in San Diego. I have no complaints (and) no regrets, but again, that's in my past. ...I’m all about having some fun and the only way we’re going to have fun is by winning.”
(on whether he is close with CB Antonio Cromartie from their time together in SD)
“Yes, Cro came (in) right when I walked into the building yesterday. I didn’t even get a chance to use my code. Cro actually let me in the building and said "Whaddup fat ass?" He made sure to let me know that he’s happy to see me."
(on new OLB Antwan Barnes)
“He is a great pass rusher, a guy that has been undervalued during his career. I think Barnes is going to have a major impact this year for the Jets. I don’t think a lot of Jets fans really know him that well, but he’s a guy that was in the Baltimore organization, knows this defense, knows how to play this defense and what is expected of him. He’s a beast off the edge, a guy that has a (heck) of a get-off, a guy who is going to create a lot of havoc and create a lot of plays on the defensive side of the ball this year.”